My first meeting with Sarah Bell, yoga teacher and now voice coach for yoga teachers was an accidental one. We ran into each other at a restorative class on a gray wintry morning and I mentioned that YogaCity NYC was interested in doing an article on her voice work called Speaking of Yoga. The first step, she told me, was to begin audio recording my classes. “Do a bunch so that you get comfortable with the microphone being there and then you can choose which one you want me to listen to.”
It had been a while since I'd thought much about the way I use my voice. In my teacher training days, I remember a lot of emphasis on word-choice and using language to instruct asana clearly and effectively. And there was some work to connect to that inner voice that motivates our teaching even when things are challenging.
But somehow the physical apparatus of the voice and how it connected to my breath and my sense of self remained uncharted terrain. As Bell put it “We spend so much time thinking about the asana, we don't always think about how what we are saying, and how we are saying it, is affecting our students. Often our voice patterns hold us back from being fully open in front of them. I want to help facilitate a stable, clear, healthy and spacious container for each teacher's wisdom and expression; all in service of transformation—for the students!”
After taping a full week worth of classes, I sent one to Sarah Bell. That week, she also came in to observe (and listen to) me teaching and we set a date to meet and discuss her observations.
This work for Bell, arises from her experiences as a theater major at the University of Illinois. While there, she was told her voice was limited by nodules on her vocal cords. She underwent surgery, but they returned and she was forced to learn a new way to use and relate to her voice. From this experience, she has turned her creative efforts to crafting workshops and one-on-one coaching that she calls Speaking Yoga. This still in-process program combines her experience and knowledge of the voice with a yogic lens through which to view the way we communicate to our students.
Armed with new attention to my voice, we met at her place to discuss her recommendations. She brewed me a blend of herbal tea to soothe and lubricate my throat as I mentioned that I had found the process so far to be challenging on a deeper level than expected. “The voice can be bound up with our personalities and our sense of self” she told me, “so it is important to keep in mind that it is a practice.”
“The first step, is simple awareness. I hope to help you shed light on some of your habits of communication as you speak about yoga to your students.” Through Bell's observations, I began to get a sense of the habits and patterns she had observed such as lack of enunciation and blurring of words. She is quick to emphasize that she is not a speech pathologist. “My job is not to diagnose or to fix things that are going wrong, my intention is to help teachers find the support they need for their voice.” Toward the end of our session Sarah ran me through a few exercises to begin to find that support incl